What did Holden fail to learn in his journey in New York?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The novel itself does not specify what Holden may have failed to learn in his journey through New York. The novel doesn't even specify what it was that Holden was looking for. He made an effort to contact people, presumably because he felt lonely. With each person he contacted he was disappointed and even disillusioned for one reason or another. What he failed to understand, partly because he was too young and too inexperienced, was that people generally are selfish and self-centered. They are unable or unwilling to give much of themselves to others. Instead they present “personas,” or masks, and offer superficial relationships, which Holden regarded as "phony." He failed to learn that it is futile to look for peace of mind outside of your own self. Emerson stresses this truth in his famous essay "Self Reliance," which is headed with an epigraph in Latin reading "Ne te quaesiveris extra," meaning “Do not seek for things outside of yourself.” He was trying to “fit in,” to be like other people, and in that respect he failed to realize that he was being phony himself.


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